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Settlement will help, injured O.C. women say

Times Staff Writer

It took only a second for the car to strike the two women taking a routine Saturday morning jog on Pacific Coast Highway. But in that instant, the lives of the two wives and mothers were forever altered.

Carol Daniel, 42, and Stacy Neria, 35, both of San Clemente, were left permanently disabled in the accident last year, unable to use their legs and arms. They reached a turning point this week when Dana Point agreed to pay nearly $50 million to help with medical costs.

But the personal struggle to heal and resume daily routines with their families began long before the settlement, the women said Wednesday, speaking publicly for the first time since the settlement was announced.

Daniel and Neria, both mothers of three whose husbands described them as “supermoms,” are now quadriplegics and require around-the-clock care. Their husbands have quit their jobs to become caregivers.

The settlement money will be used to pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance, such as long-term therapy, Chris Neria said.

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“It’s a small consolation if you’re considering the circumstances our families have gone through,” he said, “but it’s a step in the right direction.”

The women were hit April 8, 2006, by William Todd Bradshaw, who fled. Bradshaw, who had three previous drunk-driving convictions, was arrested several days later, convicted and sentenced to four years in prison.

Daniel was thrown about 60 feet, breaking her neck and pelvis and nearly severing one of her legs. Neria suffered a fractured skull, broken legs and a broken pelvis, nose and cheek. Two other women they were running with were not injured.

Neria used to go to the gym or run seven miles nearly every day, but when she first awoke after the accident, she couldn’t move any body parts under her nose. She felt caged in her own body, she said, not being able to swallow, talk or smile.

But the Neria family has learned to relish the small things, such as when Stacy could sit up after being on her back for months, or when she could once again sip water.

She longs to do the things that came so easily before, from cooking her signature baked salmon dish to giving manicures to her three girls, ages 7, 5 and 3.

“I miss being the wife and mom I was,” Neria said. Although she has a speech therapist, she now speaks only with a raspy voice that’s hardly louder than a whisper.

Chris Neria quit his job as a mortgage sales manager to become a stay-at-home dad and 24-hour caregiver. He not only had to learn how to help his wife eat and take medication, but how to apply his wife’s red lipstick and blow-dry her hair so it poufs the right way.

“I had to learn girlie things I’m certain I would never had to learn otherwise,” he said.

The family had to move out of their beloved two-story home into a single-story one so Stacy could get around in her electric wheelchair, which she steers by pressing her chin against a button.

But life for the family has slowly become a wisp of what it was before.

Stacy insists on shopping with Chris to make sure he buys all the right snacks. She attends Bible study at her church once a week. She still goes to the salon to get pedicures, manicures and to get her hair done every six weeks.

As the family moves forward, they try not to look back. “We never go to the ‘Why me?’ question,” Chris said.

Neria and Daniel’s lawsuit alleged that the section of PCH where they were hit was unsafe because the bike lane was too wide -- possibly causing drivers to mistake it for another lane -- and improperly marked. The city has since added concrete barriers protecting joggers and bicyclists.

Dana Point City Atty. A. Patrick Munoz said Wednesday that the settlement should not be construed as an admission of fault by the city, which has maintained that its roads are safe. The city views the accident as Bradshaw’s fault, Munoz said.

The city’s insurer, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority, oversaw the settlement discussions, Dana Point officials said. The settlement will be paid in a lump sum from four insurance policies.

The Daniels hope the money will put the family more at ease. Carol had not been able to attend much physical therapy because the classes were so expensive, Craig Daniel said, but now she will be able to resume them.

“We’re coping, barely,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”

Carol Daniel was a stay-at-home mom for her two daughters, ages 14 and 9, and a son, who is 7. The former star volleyball player at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo coached volleyball for the local Boys and Girls Club.

What Carol misses most are what she calls the “little things” -- helping her kids with homework, driving to sporting events and playing in the backyard.

Her goals are strengthening her upper body and having full use of her arms.

“I just want to be able to hug my kids,” she said.

my-thuan.tran@latimes.com


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